Fueling Recovery And Building Resiliency

Fueling Recovery and Building Resiliency

By April Matson

An ICF team completes archeological survey field work required for new ground disturbance in the McKenzie River Valley. Photo courtesy of ICF

The number and size of recent disaster events have highlighted and exacerbated the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, specifically in the utility sector.

In the aftermath of the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire, Lane Electric was left wit the tasks of rebuilding its system and navigating the complexity of federal grant funding opportunities to maximize eligibility, reimbursement and cover the massive costs of rebuilding.

A Trailblazing Partnership

To assist, Lane Electric was introduced to ICF, a multidisciplinary consulting firm with leading practices in disaster response and recovery, housing, and community and economic development. For more than 2 decades, ICF has worked with the federal government and states to distribute more than $100 billion to recover from and build resiliency to disasters, advance energy efficiency and clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and respond to health and economic crises.

Since beginning its partnership in 2020, ICF has helped Lane Electric secure $26 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds for rebuilding efforts in the McKenzie River Valley. But that was just the start.

“When a wildfire impacts the community, Lane Electric’s priority is restoring power as quickly and safely as possible,” says Meredith Derr, ICF’s senior director for disaster management. “How that work is completed and documented impacts eligibility for recovery funding.

The FEMA Public Assistance process is complex and includes multiple steps and reviews to get projects to funding obligation. Navigating this process quickly and efficiently is critical for community recovery, as well as utility operational and financial considerations. We are supporting Lane Electric with maximizing recovery and mitigation funding to rebuild and strengthen the McKenzie Valley to be more resilient to future disaster events.”

ICF’s experience working with FEMA and other government entities has led to funding paths that would have otherwise gone unknown, including developing a $50 million hazard mitigation proposal to strengthen infrastructure. ICF worked with Lane Electric to create a mitigation plan that addresses the growing wildfire threat and protects Lane Electric’s members and infrastructure against future wildfires and related hazards.

The mitigation plan focuses on converting overhead lines to underground; hardening lines remaining overhead to reduce damage to the grid from future wildfires, high winds and winter storms; reducing the likelihood of the electric grid igniting a wildfire; and providing alternate distribution to critical facilities in case of transmission line failure.

Building a Dream Team

Due to the size and complexity of the project, ICF has brought together a team of utility mitigation specialists, inspectors, grant management experts, drone pilots, environmental engineers and archeologists to thoroughly document the damage caused by the wildfire; develop a comprehensive mitigation strategy to rebuild the community resiliently; and work across state and federal agencies to secure necessary approvals to maximize eligible funding.

ICF has also partnered with Oregonbased engineering firm David Evans and Associates Inc. to design a more resilient electrical grid in the McKenzie Valley.

DEA is working closely with Lane Electric and ICF to provide creative and practical solutions to build a resilient power delivery system that will meet the needs of the McKenzie Valley communities impacted by the fire, harden infrastructure against future disasters and support community growth.

“Leading the engineering services for Lane Electric Cooperative’s Holiday Farm Wildfire Recovery Project is inherently rewarding for our team at David Evans and Associates Inc.,” says Sean Sullivan, vice president of DEA Energy. “Providing resilient power delivery infrastructure design solutions so our communities can access safe, reliable, cost-effective power is why we are here. We’re exceptionally proud of our team and grateful for the opportunity to improve power system reliability and resiliency for Lane Electric and its customers.”

Operating an electric system across a heavily forested region in several high-fire-risk areas, presents specific challenges. While Lane Electric has more than half of its primary system underground—a higher percentage than most rural utilities— rebuilding with an eye on resiliency and wildfire mitigation was a priority.

Broadening Resiliency Efforts

In addition to utilizing FEMA Public Assistance funding for the recovery and mitigation efforts in the McKenzie Valley,

ICF has helped Lane Electric pursue additional funding from FEMA and other federal agencies for broader resilience efforts.

ICF is working with Lane Electric to develop a comprehensive wildfire mitigation plan, which includes identifying high-risk areas of the service territory and implementing mitigation projects and strategies. The plan supports Lane Electric’s commitment to long-term investments that reduce wildfire risks to the electrical grid.

This planning work, as well as a public education and outreach campaign to inform Lane Electric’s members about wildfire safety, are being funded through grants secured from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. ICF has also supported Lane Electric in developing grant applications for FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program and funding from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

The current landscape of available federal and state grant funding provides an unprecedented opportunity for utilities to modernize their infrastructure and make it more resilient to future hazards while continuing to provide affordable power to their customers.

The resources and expertise brought forth by ICF have greatly expanded what the cooperative can plan for and implement. The 2020 wildfires that impacted the cooperative’s electrical system occurred in areas previously determined to have moderate to low wildfire probability, further emphasizing the need to reevaluate wildfire risk and develop cost-effective mitigation measures.

Members can learn more about Lane Electric’s wildfire mitigation plan at our website.